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Communications of the ACM

Communications of the ACM

Designing computer system messages

tive computer systems and studies of their users, we have become increasingly aware of the importance of system messages. Novice users are unimpressed with CPU speeds, disk storage capabilities, or elegant file structures. For them, the system appears only in the form of the messages on their screens or printers. So when novices encounter violent messages such as “FATAL ERROR, RUN ABORTED”, vague phases like “ILLEGAL CMD”, or obscure codes such as “OC7” or “IEH2191”, they are understandably shaken, confused, dismayed, and discouraged from continuing. The negative image that computer systems sometimes generate is, we believe, largely due to the difficulties users experience when they make mistakes or are unsure about what to do next.

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